TV on DVD and the importance of immersive experiences
Last week we sat down to watch the first episode of season 5 of “Merlin,” a BBC TV show we discovered last year. We watched the first four seasons on DVD and really enjoyed it. In fact, our Christmas card was an homage to the show — the photo above is of the stamp I carved from my older son’s drawing of Camelot for the front of the card; my younger son’s drawing of a knight decorated the inside (see below).
The first episode of the new season was a disappointment — not because the show itself had lost something, but because the experience of watching it was markedly less enjoyable. Commercials constantly interrupt the action (usually at the most exciting part of the story). Scenes that might be related by theme or meaning are so chopped up and separated, any nuance is lost. The scenes become disconnected from one another. You can’t fall into the story world. You stay on the outside of the experience peering in, feeling a bit frustrated.
There is so much more detail and complexity when you see the story as a whole: emotional arcs, symbolism, deeper meaning, relationships. You aren’t having the full experience when it’s chopped into bits (episodes seen days apart) and then minced (interrupted every few minutes by commercials).
The original story loses half its meaning and enjoyment when it’s chopped up for consumption on television — much as interesting topics of study lose their flavor and engaging qualities when they’re chopped up for consumption in learning.
Authentic learning and understanding require immersive experiences. The same material learned in a classroom or delivered in a unit cannot have the same impact, even if the subject is the same. The sad truth is, no matter how hard we may work to make topics of study interesting or relevant, the delivery method can kill their potential.
For a learning experience to be immersive, you must have
- all the time you need
- freedom to explore connections
- as few interruptions or transitions as possible
- the opportunity to think deeply about complex things
- time to build the skills you need to produce the work you envision
and so on. The key is time — and freedom to use that time to connect to the material in your own way.
Have you ever done a project for school that was frustrating because you knew it could have been fun — and you could have really learned something — if only you’d had adequate time to spend on it and do it the right way? I had that experience all the time in college, never mind grade school or high school.
For an immersive experience, you need time — lots of it. Weeks, months, even years. You need freedom — to make choices, to pursue side trails, to acquire skills, to have ideas, to find ways to share what you know, to find cohorts and mentors. You need the ability to concentrate and lose yourself in your work — to be in the flow.
Because we think children need to learn a little about a lot of different things, we structure learning in chopped-up little bits and constantly interrupt them with transitions as we hop from one subject to another. We don’t have time to dig down deep into one idea, so children never move beyond a surface acquaintance with any one subject.
Unfortunately, they come to believe that’s what learning is. They don’t get the opportunity to experience the power of an immersive learning experience.
Somewhere in the hours our children spend “learning,” they need time to relax, brainstorm, plan, try, fail. They need time to collaborate with friends, identify and solve problems, try again with a new idea. They need to learn and compare different tools and materials. They need to acquire skills to do something real — a task they’ve set for themselves. They need to talk to experts and find mentors, to master what they think they know so they can share it with others.
If we aren’t giving children immersive learning experiences, we’re cheating them. We’re only putting them on a nodding acquaintance with what real learning is.
Books and curricula and smartboards and iPads — they’re great. But we have to invest in our children’s education the two things that matter most — time and the freedom to learn to use it to do something meaningful.